Top critical review
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Excellent pop novel, mediocre "intellectual thriller."
on 22 December 2002
One of Perez-Reverte's most outstanding characteristics has always been his ability to incorporate academic research and arcane and thought-provoking historical data into an exciting and stimulating historical mystery. In the past, this research has always been an integral part of the novel's structure, and woe be unto the reader who, half-asleep when reading, misses a key detail or fails to note some crucial connection necessary to understanding the conclusion. This novel is different. Though it contains an intellectual mystery, it is also part treasure hunt, love story, character study, and treatise on sexual politics.
Not totally successful on any of these levels, I found the novel entertaining, but lacking those special characteristics which have always made Perez-Reverte's books so mentally engaging. The story is relatively simple. Coy, a seaman who has been suspended for two years because of an accident, begins working for Tanger Soto, a pretty, blonde librarian for the Museo Naval, who has purchased a maritime atlas which will help her to locate a sunken ship. The ship, owned by the Jesuits, sank in 1767, and Tanger believes it carries a treasure, which she intends to find. Predictable complications ensue.
The plot divides into two parts--the first part is exciting and full of action as Coy and Tanger launch their search, while the second part is almost dead, as their rivals for the treasure disappear for almost 200 pages. Perez-Reverte tries to keep the excitement going by having a particularly nasty rival reappear, menacingly, from time to time on shore, but eventually the author has to resort to the cute trick of introducing a completely new character, the narrator, to juice up the narrative and the search for the sunken ship. Even the foreshadowing is often heavy-handed: "He suspected that later...he would need to remember something about this place." Tanger, the "love interest," is distant and duplicitous, and Coy is warned by virtually everyone in the book that she can't be trusted, something that prevents the reader from being caught up in the love story. All in all, I found this below Perez-Reverte's past accomplishments, both in story and in execution, entertaining enough, but not the intellectual thriller I expected. Mary Whipple